Orchard View Farms Inc. of The Dalles has been fined $37,800 for five job safety violations—four of them repeat offenses—including failure to train employees in the safe operation of tractors and the inability of the hand or emergency brake to securely hold loaded tractors on orchard slopes. The failures “exposed workers to serious injury or death,” according to a report by the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (OSHA) and the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.
Ian Chandler, director of field operations for Orchard View Inc., said in a statement the safety and well being of their employees is a top priority for Orchard View Farms (OVF). “As an organization, OVF strives for continuous improvement at all levels. We also place an emphasis on listening to our employee concerns and suggestions on how things can work better.
“As the largest agricultural employer in the area, we have a responsibility to our employees and community to provide the safest possible work environment,” Chandler said. “We recognize that the varied terrain that we farm in the Mid-Columbia poses challenges, and as a company we provide our employees with the equipment and training that they need to safely operate machinery within our orchards.”
“Recently we experienced multiple incidents of overturned tractors,” Chandler added. “Our team at OVF analyzes and investigates each incident in order to provide the safest work environment for our employees—we welcome the opportunity to work alongside Oregon OHSA to improve our training as part of our desire for continuous improvement.
“Our employees are like family and we take the responsibility that they return home to their families at the end of each work day seriously,” he said.
The OSHA expanded inspection was in response to a confidential complaint, according to the OSHA report. During the inspection, the agency found four tractor rollovers had occurred since 2012, resulting in three tractor operators being seriously injured. The most recent injury rollover was in May of this year, when a tractor operator jumped from the vehicle when it rolled over on a steep incline.
The expanded inspection found employees had raised concerns about parking brakes on John Deere and Kubota tractors being unable to hold a loaded vehicle on the slopes in some orchards.
According to the OSHA report, instead of training employees to know when to avoid hazardously steep slopes, posting warning signs, or assigning a second crew member to work on the ground, allowing the tractor operators to remain seated and in control of the tractor, the company “had this advice for tractor operators: Shove a piece of wood behind the wheels or drive on flat land.”
Approximately 60 to 70 employees operate tractors in the orchard, the report stated. Four of the five violations cited involved failure to follow requirements for the safe operation of tractors.
In the notice of citation, it was confirmed that “the emergency brake on the (tractors) will not hold the tractor on the steep slopes in the orchard.” A related repeat citation found operators were “not adequately trained to know when to stay off slopes to steep for safe operation” and likely to allow the tractor to roll over, as happened in May of this year in a crash that resulted in injury to the driver.
Two additional repeat citations found tractor operators were not trained to “securely fasten their seat belts if the tractor had” rollover protection; and employees were allowed to operate the tractors on a sloped hillside without the rollover protection structure in the upright position “for protection against serious injury or death,” as was the case in the rollover crash this spring.
A final citation, also a repeat, found the company did not ensure its safety committee evaluated all rollover accidents and recommend effective action to prevent their recurrence.